From ancient times domestic ducks have served as a source of food and income for people in many parts of the world. Ducks are a source of meat, eggs and down-feathers (for making bedding and warm jackets). Ducks are able to subsist and grow to maturity on relatively simple diets, based on locally available feedstuffs. Duck meat and duck eggs are good dietary sources of high quality protein, energy and several vitamins and minerals.
When properly included as part of a well balanced daily diet, duck meat and eggs can supply a substantial portion of the nutrients required by humans. Ducks may be raised in small or large flocks. A small flock of ducks may be kept by a household as a supplemental source of food or income. A small flock of ducks can be established at low cost. A higher investment is required to establish larger, or commercial flocks, which require better buildings, equipment and feeds. However, greater income, supporting several families may be realized if a large flock is properly managed.
Domestic Ducks Classifications
Most domestic ducks fall into this group. Common ducks are believed to have originated from the Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos). Some of the better known breeds of common ducks include the Pekin, Asylesbury, Rouen, Call, Indian Runner, Khaki Campbell, Cayuga, Albio, Maya, and Tsaiya.Different breeds and varieties of common ducks can interbreed and produce fertile offspring. Eggs from common ducks require about 28 days to hatch.
The Muscovy (Cairina moschata) is distinctly different genetically from common ducks. This breed is believed to have originated in South America, although ancient records of this or a similar breed have been found in Egypt. There are both colored and white feathered varieties of Muscovies. The Sudani is a breed of Muscovy found in Egypt. Unlike common ducks, the head and face of Muscovies is covered with caruncles (a fleshy growth that resembles wattles). Another prominent feature of Muscovy ducks is the large difference in body size between the drake and the duck, the male weighing 30-50% more than the female. Muscovies tolerate hot weather much better than common ducks. Muscovy eggs require about 35 days to hatch. While Muscovies can be crossed with common ducks, their offspring are sterile.
Sterile Hybrid Ducks
When Muscovies and common ducks are allowed to mate naturally, the fertility rate is usually very low. It is a common practice today to use artificial insemination to increase the fertility. Whatever the method of mating, the offspring are sterile and cannot be used for breeding.
These sterile hybrids are called mule (Muscovy male x common female) or hinny (common male x Muscovy female)ducks. In some cases special names are assigned to hybrids by commercial breeders. For example, one hybrid produced by crossing Muscovy males with Pekin females is called "Moulard." Such names may identify the commercial breeder and the particular strain of Muscovy and common duck used to produce the hybrid. In Taiwan, the hybrid produced by crossing a White Muscovy male with a Kaiya (Pekin x Tsaiya) female is called simply, the "Mule Duck." Mule Ducks are popular among the people of Taiwan because of their taste and high proportion of lean meat.
Choosing the Right Breed of Duck
Choose a breed of duck that best suits your needs. This may be a native breed that is well adapted to the weather conditions of the area where you live, or it may be a breed that performs better than local breeds, available from duck keepers in other areas or from a commercial breeder.
Meat Type Breeds
If you are mainly interested in meat, and able to obtain the necessary feed or feed ingredients required, choose a meat-type breed like the Pekin. Pekin ducks grow rapidly, reaching approximately 90% of their adult weight at 7 weeks of age, when properly fed. It is not uncommon for commercially grown Pekin ducks to weight 7 lb. (3.2 kg) at 7 weeks of age. Their growth rate under less favorable conditions will depend upon the quality of the diet they are fed. But even under less optimum conditions, Pekins can do quite well. The meat from Pekin ducks is very tender and succulent and known worldwide for its delicious taste. Some meat-type breeds, such as the Aylesbury and Rouen, and unimproved lines of Pekins as well, have become less popular in recent times due in part to the development of improved Commercial lines of Pekin or other white-feathered Pekin-like ducks.
The Muscovy duck is also a popular meat duck in some areas of the world. This breed is presently very popular in France. The large breast muscle of the male (often weighing 700 grams at 13 weeks) gives this breed an advantage over common ducks which have considerably less breast muscle. However the large difference in body size between the Muscovy drake and duck , as already mentioned, as well as the fact that Muscovies have lower fertility rates than most breeds of common ducks, are major shortcomings.
Commercial Muscovy breeders in France, however, have partially overcome this reproductive deficiency through genetic selection. Mule ducks are an improvement over the pure Muscovy in that the difference in size between males and females is not nearly as great, and are superior to the Pekin in that they have more lean meat.
Egg Type Breeds
If eggs for human consumption are the product desired, choose a high egg producing breed of duck such as the Khaki Campbell, Tsaiya or Indian Runner. These breeds are capable of laying in excess of 230, and in some cases, over 300 eggs per year. These breeds are usually considerably smaller in body size than meat-type ducks. Although Pekin ducks are usually bred for their meat, some high egg producing commercial strains of Pekin or Pekin-like ducks have been developed.
Often ducks are kept as a source of both meat and eggs, and for their feathers as well. A number of breeds such as the Pekin, Aylesbury, and Maya (China) can meet these requirements. Some compromise is necessary when a strain is selected for both meat and eggs. Generally ducks that reach heavy weights at market age are not the best egg layers, and ducks that are good egg producers, are smaller in body size. A dual purpose line is usually selected for moderate body size and satisfactory egg production. Local breeds are often good choices if both meat and eggs are needed.
Ducks for Herding
For centuries, ducks in the rice producing areas of the Orient have been managed under the traditional herding system. Under this system, native ducks are selected for generations for their ability to glean most of their food from harvested rice fields, levees, swamps and waterways. A flock of herded ducks may be the major source of income for one or more families. Examples of breeds of ducks selected for herding are the Alabio and Bali of Indonesia and the native Maya in China. The name "Maya" (house duck) refers to a very common duck found in the rice growing areas of China. The feather coloring of Mayas resembles that of the female Mallard, and for this reason, Mayas are sometimes called "Sparrow Ducks." In addition to the Maya, there are a number of distinct lines or breeds in China, such as the Shao (Shaoxing brown duck), Gaoyou, Jinding, Baisha, Yellow Colophony, and of course the Pekin (Beijing duck).
William F. Dean, Ph.D., and Tirath S. Sandhu, DVM, Ph.D.